98: A vintage shop of culture
In the naïve sea of creation, responsibility is solely placed on the maker. You know the type: goes into the studio, doesn’t speak, and emerges with a new thing. Continually in a state of making, this hypothetical soul is never distracted and seen as the reason behind cultural advancement.
Meanwhile, the curator’s importance is unsure by the court of the internet. Curating is the distillation needed in this age of overwhelming information and output. Since the ability to create and distribute has been democratized, someone has to tell us what’s good.
I’ve been seeing this meme among tech-based circles that discounts the importance of the curator. Just make stuff. Fail fast and hard. Make things. Make content. Be a maker. Maker, maker, maker. Do stuff. Argumentum ad nauseam. This contributes to that vacuum mentality that romanticizes the creator as a perfect being.
Let’s set aside visual art for now and focus on podcasting for a second. I love podcasts, maybe it’s because I have a couple of them. Podcasting, or audioblogging, has a history of being obscure. With no ease of sharing or distribution, outside of iTunes, podcasting would not be at its current state if it wasn’t for people packaging up the best and sharing it. Editing is curation.
Thanks to various tastemakers and sharers, paired with amazing storytelling and hilarious interviews, podcasting hit a second wind to the general public while all us old heads sit back and enjoy all the new fans. It’s not all thanks to the wonderful folks out there creating great radio, but it’s also thanks to those sharing the stories.
Black podcasters showed the world that there’s brown behind the mic during the podcast revolution, which Podcasts in Color collected their voices to spread their reach. Another Round exploded on the scene, and now they are telling the world of more black voices by collecting and curating a weekly email list. The partnership between artists and curators is crucial.
Where does that bring us to the common day where anyone with a Tumblr account has the ability to advance the cultural conversation in black contemporary art? Is there a standard to the curator’s place in the world of digital preservation? Have we hit peak-curator-overload?
I think not.
There are two things at place.
- The democratization of tools that allow for people to share outside of a traditional institution.
- The lack of permission needed to start things.
These points are threatening to gatekeepers of prestige. Artists have the ability to exist beyond one aesthetic umbrella, and curators navigate that world by packaging the fast moving culture at a pace that traditional, glacial, spaces can’t keep up with.
According to Wikipedia, a curator is a “content specialist charged with an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.” There would be no Father Stretch My Hands without Metro Boomin. Without Arts.Black, there would be one less space to experience black art online. Many black podcasts got their start after an invite on The Black Guy Who Tips, a show rooted in podcast beginnings with over a thousand episodes in their archive.
The curator is a manager and masterful arranger existing in a beautiful helix with the artist, both holding responsibility for making the culture that swirls our lives. It’s the difference between a consignment and vintage shop, where the latter packages the best and presents it for experience, consumption, and purchase. So the next time you see someone start a themed Tumblr or Instagram, take a minute to critically consider their contribution to cultural distribution.